HALO Advisory

Commercial Real Estate Glossary

Is this your first step into investment real estate? For many investors, investment in a multi-family or retail plaza is attractive. If you’re considering that, welcome to an entirely new vocabulary and terms such as NOI or Cap rate. A HALO Mortgage Advisory Broker can explain them to you in detail and explain the impact each can have on your decision on whether a specific property is right for you and your investment portfolio.


Abandonment – A person or entity that leaves a demised premises before the end of a lease term.

Absorption rate – The net statistical changes in occupied space over a period of time. Positive absorption reflects an increase in occupied space, while negative absorption reflects a decrease.

Accrued expense – Expenses incurred which are not yet payable or have not yet been paid.

Acquisition cost – The total cost to the property purchaser; includes soft costs and sales costs.

Additional Rents – These are rents charged to a tenant for any common areas’ maintenance, taxation, and insurance.

After tax yield – This is the annual profit remaining after payment of income taxes or the annual return on equity after payment of income taxes.

After tax yield rate – The annual rate of return on equity after payment of income taxes.

Amenities – These features make a property more attractive, useful, desirable, and/or rentable and are usually included in the sale price or rent calculations.

Amortization – The process of paying off a debt, together with interest, usually with equal payments at regular intervals over a period of time.

Anchor tenant – A prominent tenant occupying a large proportion of a commercial property and attracts customers and other tenants to the property.

Appraisal Estimate – This is the process that leads to an estimate of the value of a property and can also refer to the report that states the estimate and conclusion of value.

Arrears – Money that is due or past due but has not been paid.

Assessment – This is a levy against a property in addition to general taxes, and it is usually applied by a civic authority for improvements such as streets, sewers, etc.

Assignment – The method or manner by which a right, a specialty, or contract is transferred from one person to another.


Basic rent – This is the rent agreed to through negotiation and does not include adjustments and additions.

Blanket mortgage – This is a single mortgage covering more than one property, such as a mortgage covering all the lots of a builder in one subdivision.

Break-even point – This is the point where the effective gross income equals the cost of all operating expenses and debt service payments.

Build to suit – The construction of a building or property that suits the particular needs of the occupant.


Capital improvements – These are additions to the property or improvements that enhance or extend the useful life of the property.

Capitalization – This is the anticipated stabilized rate of return from an investment. Also known as the cap rate.

Cash flow analysis – A projection of the buyer’s estimated cash flow over the holding period.

Clear title – Any property that is free of any and all competing claims, mortgages, liens, and encumbrances.

Comparables – A term used to refer to area rents or competitive rental properties or area sales that have sold, implying that “rent comps” and “sales comps” are comparable in size, location, condition, amenities, etc., to the subject property.

Contingent offer – This is an offer to purchase property subject to certain conditions, including the buyer’s approval of income and expense statements, title commitment, physical condition of the property, loan commitment, etc. – being met. The specific amount of time allowed to clear these provisions is called the inspection or contingency period.


Density – This is the amount of total square feet buildable on a set land. For example, high-density properties feature more floors.


Encroachment – A building, part of a building, or obstruction which intrudes on another property.

Encumbrance – A claim, lien, charge, or other liability attached to real property which may diminish its value.

Escalation clause – A clause in a lease providing for an increase in rent at a future time. This could be a fixed or pre-determined rate increase, a cost of living increase that ties the rent to a cost of living index, or direct expense – the rent is adjusted according to changes in the property’s expenses, such as a tax increase.


First right of refusal – An option in a lease provided to a tenant in a lease contract providing the first right to occupy space or match an incoming offer on adjacent space that may be required for the tenant’s future expansion.

Floor space ratio – Also known as FSR, the maximum floor space of a building relative to its land area.

Free and clear – When there are no liens or loans against real property.


Graduated lease – A lease that details for changes in the rental rate, usually based on periodic appraisal or time.

Gross lease – A lease where the tenant pays all or part of the expenses of the leased property, such as taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, etc.

Gross rent multiplier – Sales price or value divided by annual effective gross income. For example, if the sale price is $325,000 and the effective gross annual income is $50,000, the G.R.M. is 6.5 ($325,000 /$50,000).

Gross up area – It is the space leased but not occupied by the tenant, usually for areas such as washrooms, lobby areas, and utility centres.



Interest-only mortgage – A non-amortizing loan where the lender receives only interest during the term of the loan and recovers the principal in a lump sum at the end of the term.




Landlord – Company or individual who rents property to another.

Lease – A contract where one party (the landlord) agrees to allow another party (tenant) the exclusive, common, and/or joint right(s) to use a property for a specific period of time.

Lease buyout – When a landlord offers to take over the current lease of a tenant.

Leaseback – A transaction where an investor purchases property and then leases it back to the seller.

Lessee – The tenant or the party a property is rented to.

Lessor – The landlord or the one who rents the property to another.

Letter of intent – A formal method of stating there is interest in a property, but it is not an offer and creates no obligation.

Lien – A hold or claim that one person has upon the property of another as security for a debt, charge, tax, or judgment.

Loan-to-value ratio – This is the principal amount of a loan as a percent of lending value. For example, if the property is purchased for $500,000 and is financed by a bank loan for $300,000 the ‘loan-to-value” ratio is 60% of the property’s lending value to a borrower.


Mill rate – Equal to one-tenth of a cent. Used in expressing a tax rate, Ten mills would be the same as ten dollars per thousand.

Mortgage – A legal document pledging a described property for the performance of the repayment of a loan; a loan secured by a pledge or conditional conveyance of real estate.


Negative cash flow – When the income from an investment property does not equal the usual expenses. The owner must come up with cash each month to meet these expenses.

Net income – The difference between effective gross income (property) and operating expenses, including taxes and insurance. The term is qualified as net income before debt service.

Net lease – A lease requiring the tenant to pay, in addition to a fixed rental, the expense of the property leased, such as taxes, insurance, maintenance, etc.

Net operating income – Also known as NOI. This is the annual net income remaining after deducting all fixed and operating variable expenses but before debt service and income tax. The specific formula is:

NOI = Scheduled rental income + other income – vacancy and credit losses – operating expenses.

Net rent multiplier – The factor resulting from dividing the net operating income into the sale or purchase price.

Net rentable area – Also known as net rentable square feet. This is the total amount of square feet that can be used for rental income. It typically excludes stairways, elevators, hallways, common areas, etc.

Net-net lease – A lease in which the tenant pays a rent to the landlord that includes all real estate taxes only and does not include any portion of the operating expenses.

Net-net-net lease – Also known as a triple net lease, when the tenant pays rent to the landlord that does not include all property taxes and operating expenses.

Non-conforming use – Property used for purposes that do not conform to the permitted uses in the municipal or provincial zoning by-laws.


On-site improvements – Work completed on a property that improves its value.

Option – The right to purchase or lease a property at a certain price within a designated period of time for which a consideration is paid.


Payback period – The time required for the complete recovery of an investment; often used with the concept that all income is considered a return of capital until the entire investment is recaptured and that income received after complete payback is considered profit.

Percentage lease – A percentage lease is when the tenant pays a minimum rent and then also pays a percentage of the volume of the business done on the premises, whichever is greater. The percentage paid differs according to the type of business.

Phase I Level Audit – This refers to an initial environmental assessment of a facility by a qualified environmental engineering firm for potential contamination to determine if further investigations are warranted. Phase II level audit investigations would require further subsurface sampling, and electromagnetic and hydro-geological study.

Pre-lease – The leasing of a property or space that has not been developed or constructed.

Pro Forma – Means “for form only.” A study prepared to estimate future Income, expenses, and potential profit or loss.



Radius Clause – In a percentage lease, it is customary to have a clause that details the distance from the property that a competing store from the same chain may be located. This is usually a distance sufficient so that two stores from the same chain are not in the same trade area.

Retail premises – Premises used for the sole purpose of selling goods and/or services to the general public.




Unencumbered – This is a property or land that has no liens, claims or mortgages against it.


Vacancy rate – The percentage of total scheduled rental income lost to vacancy and bad credit costs.




Yield – This is the ratio of income from an investment to the total cost of the investment over a given period of time


Zoning – The rules of a municipality that detail the allowable uses for the real property in specific areas, and only then on specified conditions.